The Douglas County School Board has been ordered by a judge not to discuss public business or take formal action outside of public meetings, according to an order today from district court Judge Jeffrey Holmes.
The order grants a preliminary injunction requested by Douglas County resident Robert Marshall, who sued the school board and its majority members in February, alleging that the majority had violated the state’s open meeting laws during discussions regarding the removal of Superintendent Corey Wise.
Holmes wrote in his order that the evidence indicated that in non-public meetings, the majority board members committed to fire Wise.
“The hiring and firing of a school district’s superintendent is clearly a matter of public business,” according to Holmes’ order. “It is a subject that can generate strong feelings and it is a matter on which the public can expect to be fully informed.”
Marshall’s lawsuit, filed by Steve Zansberg, a well-known open-government attorney, alleged that Directors Mike Peterson, Becky Myers, Christy Williams and Kaylee Winegar used “serial meetings” or “daisy chain” meetings to evade the state’s open meetings laws.
Peterson, Myers and Williams testified on Feb. 25 that the majority directors held one-on-one conversations in the weeks before Wise was fired and individually came to the conclusion DCSD needed new leadership. Directors independently conveyed those views to Peterson and Williams.
The majority has adamantly maintained they did not violate any open meeting laws. They testified that they only spoke in one-on-one conversations and did not take formal action in a Jan. 28 meeting with Wise.
Holmes wrote that while there is a lack of precedent on this issue in Colorado, other states have addressed it and that those decisions are consistent with the position that Colorado has taken for public business.
“Circumventing the statute by a series of private one-on-one meetings at which public business is discussed and/or decisions reached is a violation of the purpose of the statute, not just its spirit.” he wrote.
Holmes went on to say that the court would not be supervising the board of education and that the order instructs the board to do what the statute requires.
“The BOE is the governing body of the DCSD, it is composed of seven members who have a responsibility to work together in the public business of providing educational services in Douglas County and to do so in a way that enables the public to view the process,” according to the order.
The board majority terminated Wise without cause in a publicly noticed special meeting on Feb. 4. Marshall filed suit after a board minority of David Ray, Susan Meek and Elizabeth Hanson publicly alleged on Jan. 31 the majority broke open meeting law by holding backdoor meetings about removing Wise.
“The fact that no public comment was permitted at the February 4th meeting is additional evidence of the Individual Defendants’ commitment to their course of action,” according to Holmes’ order.
A spokesperson for DCSD said the district has no comment at this time.